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PAR In-House Legal Hotline Marks Third Anniversary

by Hank Lerner, Esq. on

Well, here we are, about three years into the experiment of answering the PAR Legal Hotline with in-house attorneys. Things started out with about eight months of “normal” (whatever that means), then segued into a teensy bit of a worldwide pandemic, followed by a housing market that exploded like nobody’s ever seen before. So yeah – it’s been a wild ride and things are only getting busier.

For some context, take a look at these numbers for each of the first three full years of in-house hotline service (June 1-May 31):

  • June 2019-May 2020: 6,459 tickets (538/month, 26/day).
  • June 2020-May 2021: 6,801 tickets (566/month, 27/day).
  • June 2021-May 2022: 6,894 tickets (574/month, 28/day).

But look at how that spikes in some of our busiest individual months:

  • May 2020: 787 tickets (when real estate reopened after being shut down).
  • March 2020: 733 tickets (when COVID issues started).
  • March 2022: 728 tickets (just… the market!).
  • June 2022: 720 tickets (still the market!).

The good news is that it’s been a huge advantage for PAR to be able to see certain market issues play out virtually in real time. You may have noticed, for example, that many of our more recent JustListed articles are tightly targeted on certain topics we’re hearing about right when the articles are published. That sort of direct member feedback helps us serve you better.

The bad news, though, is that some of the pressures you’re feeling in these wild times are leading to some bad hotline habits from members. These behaviors from some members sometimes make it harder for us to do a good job serving the entire membership. Not to be a downer, but bear with me as I highlight a few of these items where we can use some help to keep the hotline value up for all.

The hotline is not a broker/manager.

Sample question:

“Can I <increase/decrease/rebate/pay a referral/creatively do something else with> my fee from this transaction?”

Note to agents: Most of your questions should initially be directed to your broker/manager – the hotline shouldn’t just automatically be your first call.

The answer to many hotline questions is some version of “You’ll really need to talk to your broker about that.” This fee question is a great example. The answer to all of the above is generally “That may be legal, but since all fees go through the broker, you need the broker to weigh in on whether/how this might be permitted in your brokerage firm.” It cuts out the middleman if you just start with the broker and then only call the hotline if the broker says they need more input.

And since I’m being bluntly honest, we get far too many calls from agents saying something like “I’m hoping to deal with that before I have to tell the broker.” That’s not a good idea, for many, many reasons – not the least of which is that if you wait too long and things get out of hand, it can increase the risks to you, your broker and your clients.

Note to brokers/managers: Have a system to ensure that your agents’ first call/email is to you and not to the hotline. To be even more blunt, don’t have a policy that says, “Just call the hotline with all your questions and let me know what they say.” Remember that the broker is legally responsible for all the real estate activities of the brokerage, so you can’t just outsource that to the hotline. And since a lot of the questions end up being things you need to weigh in on, or at least know about, it’s better for you if you’re aware of the issues from the start.

Use your resources.

Sample question:

“I have a question about assistance animals…”

We have a great resource called PAR JustListed. It’s a blog where we publish an article every weekday, including 20+ articles from the legal department each year. Many of the legal articles are focused on the specific types of questions we’re hearing on the hotline, so… if you’re thinking “I bet other people wonder about this too,” then take a moment to see if we might have already answered your question in writing.

Over the years we’ve published at least a dozen articles addressing various elements of assistance animals. Just this past April, we did one that links both to a comprehensive HUD guidance document that spells out exactly what questions a landlord can (and can’t) ask and how to react based on the responses, along with a snazzy flowchart that is a great cheat sheet for agents to have a feel for how those questions work.

If you call us with a question that we’ve answered in JustListed, the odds are good that we’ll try to email you back with the link to that article rather than call and cover the same ground on the phone. That way you’ll have the information for future reference and, as with this topic, you’ll have the links for the deeper information you’ll need to discuss the issue with your clients.

(Side note: PLEASE check and update your contact information with your local associations. We do occasionally send email responses for various reasons, but that’s obviously not helpful if your email address isn’t up-to-date.)

Women are lawyers too!

Got your attention, did I?

There are four hotline attorneys, two males (Hank and Brian) and two females (Desiree and Kacy). I’ll just come right out and say that it’s embarrassing and a little demoralizing to have several calls a month where the women are asked things like, “Are you an attorney?” or “Are you collecting information for the attorney to call back later?” And yet the men never get that question.

Just… do better. Please.

We are lawyers, but not YOUR lawyers.

Sample questions:

“My son is having a problem with his landlord at college.”

“I sold an investment property and now the buyer is suing me for a disclosure issue.”

The PAR Legal Hotline exists to provide general information on law/regulations/ethics/forms to our members when you’re practicing real estate. When your clients may need legal assistance, we suggest that you refer them to an attorney, but of course the hotline never provides any sort of legal advice directly to the consumer.

With that in mind, when you are buying/selling/leasing your own property that means YOU are the consumer and we can’t provide you with that sort of advice either. We’ll certainly talk through some of the basic issues, but probably won’t get as detailed as we would on a normal call. And let’s be honest – if you have a thriving business leasing or buying/selling your own property you just need your own attorney that you can consult on a regular basis.

We love you too!

While some days are better than others, it’s actually pretty cool to spend our days talking to Realtors® all over the state about the most current issues you’re facing and helping you out of jams. And it really makes our day when members have something nice to say at the end of a call. But our jobs will be a bit easier – and your answers will be a bit faster – if you can limit calls to the things you can’t figure out through other sources before you hit the hotline.

Thanks and have a great day!

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PAR Legal Hotline
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Christina Ross

The Legal Hotline is just a great Benefit to every one of us, a very valuable part of our dues. We Love you too!